From Barriers to Benefits

The successful creation and adoption of Open Educational Resources. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Mike Messner

CREDIT Net TextsEven though the open education resource (OER) movement has been moving toward mainstream acceptance for some time, many teachers and administrators still remain wary of incorporating open content into their classrooms. The advantage of OER is that they are free, public domain education material that is available on the Internet for teachers and students. Many believe this resource, if organized properly, is already superior to flat textbooks; and is growing geometrically in both quantity and quality. Yet, the resistance to whole-hearted adoption stems in some cases from actual obstacles, and in other instances, perceived ones.

The impediments, real or imagined, include technology issues such as access to computers, iPads, tablets, or Androids; pushback from administrators or teachers – depending on who is instigating its acceptance – that content is not standard-aligned; material excess – how to select from the plethora of good digital content; and logistics – simply knowing where to start, how to organize the materials and then how to ‘go for launch’ when sharing the resources of an OER-driven initiative with students.

Eliminate the“Not Invented Here Mentality”

So what does it take for a classroom teacher, school principal or district administrator to adopt an OER program? To begin with, there has to be audience acceptance – belief that high-quality, credible, free, non-copyrighted educational materials exist in a great number of repositories and portals. Many teachers and administrators alike are encumbered by the “not invented here” syndrome where OER developed anywhere else –or not contained in a bound textbook – can’t possibly be as good as what has been developed ‘in house’ or produced by a long-standing publisher. Overcoming this mindset requires a concerted effort to change both the culture and attitude.

Where’s Waldo? The Search for Appropriate OER

Recent studies determined that novice OER users were successful in finding appropriate content only about half of the timei, and that they had more success with general sites rather than at OER specific sites. It can take substantial time to sort through the abundance of resources and discover what works for a particular class, sequenced in a way that matches teacher’s lesson plans or pedagogical approach, evaluated, and used effectively in the classroom.

Providing fresh educational experiences is critical to the future of education. In much the same way that newspapers and the music industry slumbered while times changed, K-12 administrators must advocate for going digital – giving teachers the authority to collaborate on developing materials for, and use by, other teachers across the district and around the globe.

Start by compiling a list of faculty-created resources – presentations, videos, slideshows, e-books, PDFs, audio books, text, Web links, assignment sheets, assessments, etc. Consider deploying an intuitive interface, like Net Texts, where teachers can find, build and customize multimedia courses beyond those created in their school or district. Net Texts offers educators a mix-and-match library of more than 50,000 free OER items from trusted providers we have had the privilege to work with like CK-12, Curriki, Khan Academy, Smithsonian, and some of the world’s top colleges and universities including MIT OpenCourseWare. Our researchers have done the homework, vetted, and amassed a myriad of complete lessons, units and courses that are available in subjects ranging from British and American Literature to Calculus, Statistics, Biology, Chemistry, and U.S. and World History, and more.

Revamping the Ramp-up

Whereas no technical support is required to use a print textbook, ramping up digital learning materials often does require support. Look for consulting services that can assist a school or district that wants to implement a comprehensive OER platform across one or more grades. Consider the need to build and customize courses ensuring that schools find the best open educational resources and create template courses that follow State and Common Core standards. For 1:1 implementations, it’s important to set up and configure your tablets to include the best companion education apps and to restrict non-educational apps through mobile device management solutions. Build it and they will come? Maybe. Be sure to offer professional development workshops that introduce the use of iPads, other tablets and Androids in conjunction with OER.

Bridging the Digital Divide

Given the reliance of open education content on networked technologies, learners’ lack of access to appropriate technologies and sufficient bandwidth to access streaming content, pose a significant barrier. Look for solutions where students can simply download the courses to their tablets or computers and engage in interactive learning at any time, inside and outside the classroom. Our free app allows the content to be stored locally on the devices, so there is no need for students to have Wi-Fi access in order to view and complete their assignments. This design reduces the demand on the school’s Wi-Fi and Internet bandwidth, which is a significant advantage; most schools lack the infrastructure to handle hundreds of Wi-Fi devices with streaming video.

Moving Mainstream

In its purest sense, OER should be a source of inspiration for innovation and creativity. At the root, OER is about using, remixing, and redistributing the best resources and combining them with current, relevant, fresh digital content all while maintaining a premium emphasis on quality. Failing to support and encourage teachers to incorporate OER ensures that nothing but traditional methods of instruction will continue. Identifying and eliminating the barriers to OER adoption is key. In a rapidly changing educational environment, failing to embrace the low-cost open content movement and full transition to OER-driven teaching platforms is the surest path to remaining stuck in the centuries old, textbook-bound education model.


Mike Messner is the co-founder of Net Texts.


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